Thursday, May 30, 2013

Bruises, addictions, and grace

Mile log: 552

Have you ever read a book, heard a message, or listened to a song that seemed to bruise your soul? It's the kind of thing that knocks you off your feet and throbs for a while, deep and constant, and then lingers longer as a tender, sensitive, and vividly colorful reminder of what hit you. This has happened to me a few times in my life so far, and while it hurts a lot, it is a good thing and I'm thankful for it. Last night, a friend said, "It reminds us that we bleed..." and sometimes we have to bleed in order to heal, grow, and become stronger.

This time the bruise came from a book called All is Grace, about the life of Brennan Manning, author and speaker renowned for his book The Ragamuffin Gospel, among others. I mentioned it a few posts back, and finished reading it this morning. The thing that amazed (and disturbed) me the most was to find out that he was an alcoholic his whole life... it was an addiction that he struggled with and fell into over and over again in big and destructive ways, even in the midst of his amazing ministry of writing and speaking... while his message of grace was inspiring and changing lives all over the country.

Then I thought of Abraham, and Jacob, and Moses, and Samson, and Barak, and Jephthah, and other losers in the Old Testament who are noted in the "Hall of Faith" of Hebrews 11. I get so ticked off when I read their stories: why on earth would God choose to use these guys? It's not even that they were a mess and God fixed them up and then used them... they were a mess their whole lives! Severely insecure, whiny and needy, impulsive, manipulative, unfaithful, and full of themselves. I see a lot of these problems in my own heart, and it isn't pretty, and when I realize how often I give in to these things and violently wrestle with them, I'm amazed at how God continues to use me in ministry, in spite of it all. I think the characters in the Old Testament all had an "alcoholism" of sorts - an internal addiction to something that eased the ache of something deep inside that they may or may not have ever really recognized for what it was. And I have my own forms of alcoholism too.

I think maybe that is what every sin is... the things we run to, to numb the pain of the reality that we are separated from God. And when we come to Jesus and he saves and forgives, there is a shift - we don't need sin anymore because the relationship has been restored - we have access to God, and he is with us, and his power gives us victory over the bondage of sin. But the restoration isn't complete yet, and won't be complete until we are Home with Him... and as the Redeemed, we have that promise and the guarantee of it is the seal of the Holy Spirit, so we should just be able to rest in that promise until it is fulfilled. But we get impatient and restless, and like the Hebrews in the wilderness, we so easily forget the promise. And we revert back to what it felt like to not have relationship with God at all; we translate the small temporary void in our souls into a much bigger, older, and more eternal void (which doesn't actually exist anymore in those who are in Christ!).

But God is so merciful and gracious and patient with us... because even when we forget, He remembers that He redeemed us, and He remembers what is promised, and He knows He will keep that promise and how good things will be when it is fulfilled. Maybe that is why He doesn't give up on us, why He forgives and makes his mercies new every morning, and why He is determined to use us for the praise of his glory and the furthering of his kingdom, even as we wrestle through our mess. And what a beautiful story it is, when we see how God's glory triumphs against all odds - the odds being US, broken and messy and frustratingly forgetful creatures - and no matter what, he still loves us and uses our lives to highlight his love and grace.